Bodily Moral Disgust: What It Is, How It Is Different From Anger, and Why It Is an Unreasoned Emotion

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Abstract

With the recent upswing in research interest on the moral implications of disgust, there has been uncertainty about what kind of situations elicit moral disgust and whether disgust is a rational or irrational player in moral decision making. We first outline the benefits of distinguishing between bodily violations (e.g., sexual taboos, such as pedophilia and incest) and nonbodily violations (e.g., deception or betrayal) when examining moral disgust. We review findings from our lab and others' showing that, although many existing studies do not control for anger when studying disgust, disgust at nonbodily violations is often associated with anger and hard to separate from it, while bodily violations more consistently predict disgust independently of anger. Building on this distinction, we present further empirical evidence that moral disgust, in the context of bodily violations, is a relatively primitively appraised moral emotion compared to others such as anger, and also that it is less flexible and less prone to external justifications. Our review and results underscore the need to distinguish between the different consequences of moral emotions.

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